As parents we aim to fix many, if not all, of our children’s difficulties. When they’re sick, we rush them to the doctor; if he didn’t get to bat at the cricket match we’re tempted to call the coach and let him have it.
We very easily get into fix it mode, not thinking that our children have to face a world that is not fair or understanding, not predictable and organised, and certainly not as comfortable as we would wish it to be for them. In short, the world is full of challenges. The question is: are you helping your child build resilience and coping skills by doing it all for them?
Parents have to realise that there are times when we can’t fix it. There are times when our children are going to have to endure difficulties. There will be times when they will feel left out of friendships, disappointed that they did not win, frustrated that things didn’t go the way they wanted them to.
The difficult feelings that emerge from these situations are the challenge that our children need to face – with our emotional support. If, however, we step in to “fix it” then we give our children the message that difficulties cannot be endured. We give them the message that life is supposed to run smoothly, comfortably and happily.
This does not help them to build resilience or the emotional muscle to cope with what might not always be a designer life.
So how do we help our children to face challenges?
- The first step is recognising the challenge. Most of us fail our challenges because we do not recognise them. They are camouflaged in the mundane details of daily life. We think challenges are the stuff movies are made of, when really it is the everyday events and habits and behaviours that make up our lives.
- The second step is to acknowledge that challenges are subjective experiences. This means that what is challenging for you might not be challenging for your child – or anyone else. Don’t impose your own issues on your child, and similarly don’t be dismissive about things that may be important to her.
- The third step is to acknowledge the difficulty. For challenges to be real, they also have to be difficult. When there is no struggle, there is no challenge and therefore no inner growth. Acknowledge the struggle your child is facing and the hard feelings that this evokes – share your own difficulties and how you feel when things go wrong, as well as how you cope.
- The fourth step is to create a plan. Help your child consciously visualise and think through a plan for dealing with whatever challenge he is facing and to implement it. Picture it. Say it. Rehearse it. Act it. If your child struggles to leave you at the school gate, acknowledge the feeling but also the reality that he has to go to school. Rehearse ways to make him feel better about it – perhaps by creating a special ritual or secret handshake between the two of you. Rehearse it in a non-threatening context and then do it. Encourage him to visualise how he can make himself feel better when you are not there – perhaps by looking forward to a special treat after school.
- Lastly, evaluate and reward problem solving. Talk to your child about problem-solving plans and coping skills; what works and what doesn’t. Point out successful strategies and praise them: “It was a good idea to take a walk around the garden to cool down after you and Josh had that fight, I’m proud of you.”